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NAB Nabs Net, Pares Down Chief Selection

The ABC Network rejoined the National Association of Broadcasters this week after two years off the rolls. The move hails the return of the first big network after the exodus of the big four sparked by a schism over the national media ownership cap. Affiliates wanted it held in check; networks wanted to own more stations. Congress resolved the conflict by default last fall when it set the cap at 39 percent.

ABC, the last to leave and the first to return, does so in time for the donnybrook that DTV legislation promises to be. Networks and affiliates alike have much at stake on Capitol Hill this fall when lawmakers return from recess. Hard-date analog deadline bills are circulating in both houses, and another bill in a Senate committee includes a provision against down-rezzing and one preserving must-carry and retransmission consent. Both items are among several the NAB considers crucial for broadcast television to weather an analog shutdown.

"There is no denying that we are stronger as an industry when we are united," NAB chief Eddie Fritts said in a press release announcing the reunion.

In his farewell address at NAB2005, Fritts said one of the hardest parts of the job was to keep the so-and-sos "in the same boat." In welcoming ABC back to the fold, Fritts said the NAB had developed "new dispute resolution mechanisms" to give ABC "and all other members the opportunity to be heard."

Fritts announced last February that he would step down when his contract expires in April 2006. Among the candidates to succeed him, several sources indicated that Mitch Rose, vice president of government relations for Disney, parent corporation of ABC, is in the top running. Rose, a veteran lobbyist, was previously chief of staff for Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who now heads the Senate Commerce committee where the final DTV bill is likely to be formulated. According to the same sources, other top contenders included Fred Grandy, a former congressman who now co-hosts a radio talkshow; former AOL executive Lisa Hook; and David Rehr, president of the National Beer Wholesalers Association. Marty Franks, executive vice president of CBS, was said to be out of the running, but Warren News this morning reported that Franks is not yet an also-ran.

Neither NAB nor ABC would confirm the successor hotlist. A source at ABC said Rose's pole position had nothing to do with ABC's decision to rejoin the NAB. They said it was instead motivated by pending DTV legislation issues.

Insiders also said Fritts has always held the respect of Preston Padden, executive vice president of worldwide government relations for Disney and Rose's boss. Padden was said to be reluctant to pull ABC out of the NAB, and indeed, it was the last network to go. Padden will now be seated as a TV network representative on the NAB board, and ABC's 10 TV and 70 radio stations will be reinstated into NAB membership.